They’re not going to touch the rules in the main-draw singles, doubles or mixed. At least not at this US Open.
But the final Grand Slam of the season will expand the baby steps it took a year ago when the juniors event was played with a a serve clock.
This year, the innovations have been expanded to the qualifying, wheelchair event, and legends. Basically, everything but the three main events will fall under the new rules.
The biggest change will be on the on-court coaching.
If you want to be cynical, you’d say that the US Open is only legitimizing what is already going on. But the women already have official on-court coaching timeouts during the regular WTA Tour season. This will be a completely new thing for the men.
It could well be a free-for-all. Or it could be great fun for the fans.
All coaching, all the time
Tennis is a sport that that widely considers the inner problem-solving skills on court to be an asset. But the notion of the increased dependance of the players on their coach is a subject for another day.
The coaches now will be allowed to talk to their players between points. When the player is on the same side of the court, the coach, or coaches can actually speak to the player.
(That definition, per the USTA, means “those in the designated player box”).
Not only that, when the player is on the opposite side of the court, the coaches can use signals.
They’ll have to start practicing those now.
Except they can’t practice during the warmup events the next two weeks. Because it’s illegal. Oops.
We’re having a vision of a coach, super-coach, physio and assorted parents – maybe even a husband or wife or two – all yelling at a player between points.
But hopefully they’ll contain themselves.
On-court clock expanded
The second biggest innovation is the expansion of the on-court clock.
In addition to the serve clock, it seems as though the players now will be on the clock, all the time.
The clock was debuted at the junior event last summer, with very few issues.
The break with the standard ITF Grand Slam rules is that the time between points will be 25 seconds. That’s how it is on the ATP and WTA Tours the rest of the season. Generally in the majors, it has been a rather unrealistic – and unenforceable – 20 seconds.
It's annoying qualifiers are treated as guinea pigs,we're also professionals. Not being respected as much as the main draw players as always
— Naomi Broady (@NaomiBroady) August 10, 2017
The clock begins after the chair umpire announces the score, which gives the umpire some leeway to allow for fan noise or other distractions.
The clock also will be used on the warmup period, which usually is clocked by the umpire. After that five-minute period, the players have 60 seconds to start play.
Hopefully, that will mean all the bag relocating, snacking, drinking and other things that occur after the end of the warmup will be eliminated.
It won’t eliminate all of the dilly-dallying that happens before the warmup starts.
But baby steps.
The “change of attire” time limit will be five minutes. At the moment it’s, well, kind of fluid. But the clock will only start when the players enter the changing room, and stop when they come out. That would be unrealistic; not all courts are conveniently close to a place for the players to change or use the washroom.
And, of course, if the reason for taking the bathroom break really is legit – and there are any issues, er, performing – the player could be penalized.
Fans sitting on court waiting will count that down, too.
The Grand Slam board reviewed the changes (obviously the change from 20 to 25 seconds between points is the big one). And the changes were “made in consensus with the two tours” and “approved by the ITF Rules of Tennis Committee. According to a statement from USTA executive Stacey Allaster:
“Both throughout the event and following its completion, we will gather and analyze data and reaction, and determine the next steps for future usage, as well as the potential for further innovation in other areas of the game.”
Juniors trial in 2016 uneventful
If it works the way it did last year for the serving clock, the various uses of the shot clock will certainly give the chair umpires more busy work to do. And that take away from the job they are actually there to do. As well, it will take some getting used to.
Through the week of the junior event, tennis.life was told last year, the chair umpire punched in and announced the score, then started the serve clock. They began with a longer grace period before starting the clock. As the week progressed, they squeezed that grace period a few seconds at a time.
It appeared to be far less of a challenge with the juniors than it may prove to be with the pro players in the qualifying this year.
Rarely, during the many junior matches tennis.life observed last year, did the juniors overstep the limits of the clock. It didn’t beep when it ran down to zero, so at least that wasn’t a distraction. And rarely were the players called for it, even when it did.
First trial with the grownups
It will be fascinating to see how some of the slower players in the big boys and girls’ qualifying react to it. And, more pertinently, how strict the chair umpires are in enforcing it.
There are already rules in place for time between points that the umpires should be timing, even if it’s not visible on the scoreboard. And they don’t enforce those the way they should.
Obviously there will now be public pressure from the fans watching, who will know exactly how much time there is.
There will be no change in the whole injury timeout process. And that’s the place where the opponent is most penalized. Some of those timeouts last well over 10 minutes, because the notion of “evaluation period” is loose. As well, the five-minute prescribed period for treatment is flaunted time and time again when the players have to go off-court to get a more sensitive body area taped.
You just hope the fans won’t start counting down the clock every time it gets under 10 seconds – for whatever reason.
Between the fans counting, and the coaches and entourage yelling at the players, it could be quite cacaphonous in the worst-case scenario.
So much for “quiet, please”.